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WHAT THE DATA SHOWS ABOUT MARRIAGE AND FAMILIES

9/20/2003 - 1:00 PM PST

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Range of Evidence Lends Credence to Backers of Traditional Lifestyles

NEW YORK, SEPT. 20, 2003 (Zenit) - Supporters of traditional marriage might find comfort in new data that underline the importance of the family and religious values. A lengthy article in the June issue of Population and Development Review gave an overview of the research literature on these themes. The magazine is published by the New York-based Population Council, not normally noted for its support of traditional moral values.

The article, by Linda Waite and Evelyn Lehrer, unambiguously states: "We argue that both marriage and religiosity generally have far-reaching, positive effects." Among their main points, which they back up with five pages of bibliographical references, are these:

-- Married people are less likely than unmarried people to suffer from long-term illness or disability, and they have better survival rates for some illnesses. A growing body of research also shows an association between religious involvement and improved physical health.

-- Getting married, and staying married to the same person, is associated with better mental health. Marriage is also associated with greater overall happiness. While the connection between mental health and religion is much debated, Waite and Lehrer state that studies are suggestive of a positive association between the two.

-- A large body of literature documents that married men earn higher wages than their single counterparts. Although the relationship between religion and earnings is largely un-researched the article does note that religiosity has a positive effect on educational attainment, a key determinant of success in the labor market.

-- Children raised by their own married parents do better, on average, across a range of outcomes: infant mortality; health; schooling; and avoiding having children as unmarried teen-agers. Studies also document that parenting styles formed by religious affiliation are better for children's welfare. And kids who are religiously active themselves seem to do better at school and manage to avoid dangerous behavior.

-- Emotional and physical satisfaction with sex are higher for married people.

-- Married couples have notably lower levels of domestic violence.

Trying to explain the causal factors behind these results, Waite and Lehrer observe that both marriage and religion lead to positive outcomes by providing social support and integration. They also encourage healthy behaviors and lifestyles. Notably, the benefits from marriage apply to those who make a lifetime commitment. Both divorce and cohabitation significantly reduce the positive effects.

A payoff

A recent study by the Heritage Foundation put a figure on just how much marriage is worth in economic terms. Single mothers who married would see an increase of $10,199 to $11,599 in their median family incomes, said Heritage Foundation analyst Patrick Fagan. He wrote a report on the subject with other Heritage researchers. The Washington Times reported on the study May 28.

The Heritage researchers said that new light has been shed on the topic by the ongoing Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. That five-year study, conducted by researchers with Princeton and Columbia universities, involves some 4,700 new parents who are low-income and typically unmarried.

Marriage has a significant impact for single mothers who don't work, the study found. These welfare mothers who remain single will live in poverty because welfare benefits rarely, if ever, lift a family out of poverty. "By contrast, if the mother marries the child's father, the poverty rate drops dramatically to 35%," the researchers said.

And the psychological benefits of family life were highlighted in a study published last month in Denmark. Adults with children are less likely to commit suicide than those without, the Associated Press said in its Aug. 11 report on the study. Likewise, young children were found to add an extra layer guarding against suicide for women. The study involved 18,611 people in Denmark who committed suicide from 1981 to 1997.

"It is widely expected that childbearing is most often a positive life event that may prevent people from ending their life," Drs. Ping Qin and Preben Bo Mortensen of Aarhus University in Denmark said in the study.

The researchers compared data on suicide victims and a control group. Nearly 47% of suicide victims had no children, and fewer than 23% had two or more children. Only 2% of suicide victims had a child younger than age 2.

The results confirm some previous data but also "fly in the face" of some assumptions about the impact of having children, said psychologist David Clark of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in ...

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